WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told the full Senate he knew that former director James Comey would be fired before he wrote his controversial memo that the White House initially used as justification for President Trump firing the FBI director.
Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said Rosenstein told the senators that he knew on Monday, the day before Comey was fired, that Trump was going to fire him. He also told them that he was not pressured into writing his memo.
‘‘He learned the president’s decision to fire him and then he wrote his memo with his rationale,’’ Durbin said.
The day after Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate possible coordination between Trump’s associates and Russian officials, he appeared before the Senate on Thursday afternoon to brief senators in a closed session.
Rosenstein received support from the Senate a month ago when he was confirmed by a vote of 94 to 6 to be the Justice Department’s second-highest-ranking official. But his reputation has come under fierce attack in the past week over a memo he wrote about James Comey that the White House initially used as a justification for Trump to fire the FBI director.
Since Comey’s firing on May 9, the calls for Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel have intensified, especially from Democratic lawmakers who believe he can no longer be impartial in the Russia investigation, given his role in the firing. Rosenstein was put in charge of the Russia investigation as soon as he was confirmed because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after The Washington Post revealed contacts he had with the Russian ambassador that he had not reported when asked about it during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Rosenstein’s 2:30 p.m. briefing with the Senate was scheduled before he announced late Wednesday that he was appointing Robert Mueller, a former prosecutor who served as FBI director from 2001 to 2013, to take over the Russia investigation as special counsel.
Rosenstein met with all US senators in one of the most protected rooms on Capitol Hill, ‘‘the SCIF,’’ or a sensitive compartmented information facility. The below-ground facilities in the Capitol Visitors Center — one on the House side, one on the Senate side — are primarily used by national security committees to receive updates on classified or sensitive matters from top government officials, who regularly visit the Capitol to meet with lawmakers. One part of the Senate SCIF is large enough to hold all 100 senators, a senior aide said.
Why Rosenstein’s briefing needed to happen in a room designed for classified briefings is unclear. Aides to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t say whether Rosenstein requested that the briefing be classified or whether he has told Senate leaders that he had classified information to share.
Rosenstein may have been asked about his decision to open an independent investigation, as well as the circumstances surrounding the memo he wrote about Comey.